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Democracy should not mean lack of progress

The rapid change in China has been news for the past two decades and still the speed with which the mainland reinvents itself can still be frightening. As recent as last year, China has been best known overseas in part by the wealth its surging economy generated and the brassy nouveau riche created in the process.

When Apple Inc. introduced the champagne-hued iPhone last year, the color was dubbed the “tuhao gold” in the Chinese-speaking world. The new smartphone line-up was designed to cater to the showiness of the Chinese customers. In fact, the word “tuhao” (土豪) — which in Chinese originally means landowners who bully others but is now used in reference to gaudy and wealth-flashing people — joined “selfie” and “twerking” as buzzwords of last year.

China was already seeing a change of course even as “tuhao” was gaining hype. According to a survey by the Hurun Report, overall spending by wealthy Chinese fell by 15 percent last year, the third consecutive year of decline. The drop took place amid the campaigns waged by Chinese President Xi Jinping against corruption and the culture of conspicuous spending. At the same time, a number of high-end consumers in the mainland are also moving away from their obsession with ostentatious luxury products. To accommodate the change of taste, some luxury fashion brands are offering products with emphasis on quality materials instead of showy designs. According to Hurun report, growth in traditional luxury products such as accessories and leather products is slowing down while high-end health care and education are still experiencing healthy growth. Wealthy Chinese seem to be switching from showing off their riches to using their money for life improvement.

Such apparent modesty also spread to Chinese government officials. The Financial Times reported yesterday that over 50 five-star hotels in China applied to have their ratings downgraded last year in order to draw back government officials fleeing high-end venues amid Xi's crackdown on lavish spending.

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